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Study: Mental health during pregnancy impacts child

Study: Mental health during pregnancy impacts child

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A new research paper finds a strong correlation between maternal mental health and the well-being of the child

Heng Chivoan

A participant reads a brochure at a workshop on the wide-ranging impacts of maternal mental health Thursday.

ASTRONG correlation between mental health problems during pregnancy and low birth weight and stunted childhood development has been identified by a study aiming to raise the profile of maternal mental health in Cambodia.

The study, conducted by the Trans-cultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) and Cambodia Reproductive and Child Health Resource Centre (RACHA), focused on Pursat province and was largely based on interviews with 297 women.

Among the sample study, symptoms of depression and anxiety were detected in 17.8 percent of pregnant women while 9.8 percent reported symptoms of anxiety only.

The risk factors identified by the study included poverty, unplanned pregnancy, history of abortion, loss of a child, illness or death of a family member, marital conflict and a history of mental health problems.

Currently, maternal mental health is of low priority amongst stakeholders in Cambodia, possibly due to a lack of research and understanding into the potential impact of poor maternal mental health on the general health and well-being of both mother and child, officials said.

Chan Theary, executive director of RACHA, said prioritising mental health has long been neglected by both government and donor agencies in Cambodia. "Women's mental health remains low on the agenda of planners and policymakers not only in Cambodia but generally in the developing world. This is an emerging public health challenge," she said, adding that depression will be the second most common global disease by 2020.

Professor Ka Sunbaunat, psychiatrist and director of National Program for Mental Health, said mental health problems in pregnant mothers have profound effects on the health of the unborn child. "Mental health problems in mothers can cause children to have retardation, epilepsy or physical underdevelopment. Some of these problems are incurable," he said. 

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